Notes on Negotiation

Tips on getting what you want, and getting what everyone wants, in negotiations.

Tips on getting what you want, and getting what everyone wants, in negotiations.

When Eisenhower became President, Truman was rumored to have said, “Ike can’t just tell people what to do like he could in the Army. When you are president, you only get what you can negotiate.” Whether this story actually happened is irrelevant. In life, you only get what you negotiate.

Tactics

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Communication Conflicts

Assumptions, Emotions, Perceptions, Conditions, and Facts color our communication with ourselves and others. We must learn to manage them.

A wise man once said that the hardest thing about communication is the illusion that it has occurred. I have been involved in hundreds of medical, military, and public safety operations, and the after-action reviews of each one cite communication as a problem. Whether in business, relationships, or anywhere else, avalanches of academic papers and mountains of media articles bemoan our inability to effectively talk to each other, and propose ways of fixing it.

Several factors are present in every communication event, including assumptions, emotions, perceptions, conditions, and facts. They change the communication, often without the participants realizing it.

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Why Talk?

We talk to other people to share information, to make impressions, to intimidate, to seduce, and for more reasons than we realize.

Last month I attended triservice Disaster Management classes in San Antonio, TX. We did many team simulations and during a break I chatted with a teammate, Sarah, a Navy environmental health officer. She had only been in uniform a few months, previously working as an environmental lobbyist in Washington DC. A single female in her mid-30s, she was a self-described liberal, and after class she was going to Austin, which she described as a “little blue dot in a sea of red”.

Pundits might classify Sarah and I on different ends of the political spectrum, and I was curious about her views. We chatted a few moments about economic inequality, and at the next break I asked her to continue with her thoughts. She hesitated. Sarah said “these conversations start from different points” and they end “without either person having convinced the other”. I responded, “yes”, but to convince the other person is not the main point of a conversation; the main point of such discourse is to build relationships. She seemed a little surprised, but began sharing, and we had a fine discussion.

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The Informative Brief

How can we effectively brief our bosses, our peers, and other stakeholders to educate them on important issues, and in the end, achieve our goals? 

A senior civilian official in the military health system was at a surgical conference with a young Navy colleague. They chatted, and in the course of their conversation the Navy surgeon mentioned some exciting things that he was doing in his clinic to improve access, operating room utilization and quality of care.  The civilian official asked the younger man to prepare a talk to present to a group of senior leaders. Eventually word of this arrangement spread throughout the levels of command and my team was tasked with making sure that the brief accomplished its purpose.

The Navy surgeon was smart, industrious, and enthusiastic about his team’s accomplishments. Their record was impressive, providing more patient care with better outcomes, higher satisfaction and fewer resources than before. Operating room utilization improved, and the surgical fellowship, threatened by poor case mix and volume, was on firmer ground.

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Getting People to Answer

What do you do when people in the workplace ignore you, even though you need them for work? How can you use influence when you don’t have raw power, to get answers?

A Navy Lieutenant Commander (LCDR) came into my office recently. “Sir, I have emailed Lt. Col X several times and she hasn’t answered yet. All I get is radio silence. Could you help?” This young officer was voicing a concern that I hear frequently; someone that they are trying to work with, or get something from, wasn’t answering. Or at least they weren’t answering fast enough to suit us at higher headquarters. When faced with such a problem, many junior staffers go to the Boss, hoping that he or she will contact the person and get immediate results. Sometimes if the issue is urgent that is the right approach. Sometimes even going directly to the boss of Lt. Col X is the best approach. Often, however, it is better for the junior staffer to get the information themselves, and there are many ways to do that. I have been faced with similar problems in the past and have learned the hard way that, unless the issue is urgent, I need to exhaust my options for resolving problems, such as radio silence from someone I am supposed to work with, before going further up the chain.

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Formal Business Visits and Town Halls

How to have the most effective visits to outlying sections in your business, and how to have the most effective town hall meetings with stakeholders.  

Management gurus since the 1970s have taught leaders to “manage by walking around (MBWA)”; getting out of the office and into the workplace to see for themselves what was going on in their organization. It is a very old idea. Generals such as Napoleon Bonaparte and business tycoons such as Henry Ford were legendary for getting first-hand information about their organization and its environment, but MBWA has been around since before Moses walked among the people of Israel during the Exodus (c. 1400 BC).

Most MBWA is informal, with the boss walking from department to department or store to store, meeting people, talking, and most importantly listening to them. There are times, however, when leaders need to interact with their organizations and with other organizations more formally. My leadership team in the Joint Task Force – National Capital Medicine (later National Capital Region Medical Directorate (NCRMD), part of the Defense Health Agency), routinely met with leaders and workers at military hospitals and clinics throughout our market. We also visited Federal Facilities such as the Veteran’s Administration, and major regional partners including the hospitals and clinics of the Johns Hopkins, Medstar and INOVA systems. Sometimes formal trips to universities and other non-medical facilities were required, and often my team and I addressed groups of stakeholders in a town hall or public forum.

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Briefing Senior Leaders

How to brief (make a presentation to) your boss?

One of the most daunting tasks faced by junior officers in the military, and subordinates in any organization, is how to formally communicate with their boss and other senior leaders. Some senior leaders are easy to communicate with; they welcome open discussion and make those briefing them comfortable. Others are hard to communicate with, and as people progress up the ranks they find that senior leaders become harder and harder to brief.

This is not because senior leaders are bad people morally, they are certainly not worse than others on average. It is not because they are stupid or lazy; senior leaders have to be relatively intelligent and ambitious or they wouldn’t make it to senior levels. Rather it is because they are very busy people who don’t have time for the unprepared, the uninterested, the verbose, and the comic. They expect their subordinates to bring them trustworthy information, problems and solutions. Such leaders don’t have the time or the ability to double the information they are given, and they can’t fix everything, regardless of their position.

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